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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

For Teenage Brains, the Importance of Continuing to Learn Deeply

From Mind/Shift
How we will learn.

By Shankar Vedantam, NPR
September 23, 2014

"Among some children with very high IQs, the brain appears to stay in learning hyperdrive for an extended period."

John Hewitt is a neuroscientist who studies the biology of intelligence. He’s also a parent. Over the years, Hewitt has periodically drawn upon his scientific knowledge in making parenting decisions.

“I’m a father of four children myself and I never worried too much about the environments that I was providing for my children because I thought, well, it would all work out in the end anyway — aren’t the genes especially powerful?”
Hewitt says.

He knew intelligence has a strong biological component. If your parents are smart, you’ll probably be smart — even without a lot of fuss about the right schools and learning environments.

But recently, Hewitt discovered something that surprised him.

“Well, I may have been wrong,” he admits. “It may well be that the environmental boost you can get, or the detriment you can suffer through adversity, may indeed be a little more important at a critical period in adolescence than I had previously thought. And this may especially be true for parents of very bright children.”

What Hewitt, director of the Institute for Behavioral Genetics at the University of Colorado, is talking about is a new understanding of the interplay between your genetic inheritance and how you learn from the environment. He credits another researcher, Angela Brant, for coming up with a new insight into this critical period in development.

To understand what Brant found, here’s some context: Both children and adults learn things, but children are better than adults at some kinds of learning. Think about trying to learn a new language.

“In language you have specific words and vocabulary,” says Brant, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at Penn State University. “And you also have the broad patterns of the language — the syntax. We know that adults can pick up vocabulary words, but they are less able to pick up syntax.”

So what is it about children that allows them to grasp the “deep” knowledge of syntax more quickly than do adults? Neuroscientists think the reason children do better at such challenges is that young brains are more receptive to learning.

“Until adolescence there are lots of new connections being made between neurons to store patterns and information collected from the environment,” Brant says.

In childhood, the brain adds many synapses in the cortex. This comes at a time when the brain is especially responsive to learning. This is typically followed by cortical pruning in adolescence, as the brain shifts from hyperlearning mode.

Hewitt agrees: “The developing brain is a much more flexible organ than the mature brain.”

Learning doesn’t stop at adolescence, of course, but the “sensitive period” — where the brain is hyperlearning mode — does appear to come to an end. Learning new things gets harder.

At least that’s the typical pattern. But Brant and Hewitt find that for some children, there is an extended learning period. Among some children with very high IQs, the brain appears to stay in learning hyperdrive for an extended period.

Brant, Hewitt and other researchers recently tracked a group of children over time. Some were genetically identical twins, some were fraternal twins, some were non-twin biological siblings, some were adopted siblings.

Using mathematical techniques that allow researchers to disentangle the effects of genetic and environmental influences on individuals, Brant noticed that kids who had higher IQs to begin with seemed to have an extended period in adolescence during which they retained the ability to learn at a rapid pace, just like much younger children.

“I found that twins that had a higher IQ were showing a more childlike pattern of influence during adolescence,” Brant says.

Hewitt agrees. “It was as if there was an extended sensitive period in the higher IQ individuals. Or another way of looking at it is the sensitivity to the environment which is characteristic of earlier childhood seemed to end earlier for individuals with lower IQ.”

Hewitt and Brant don’t know why some teenagers continue to learn at the pace of much younger children. It may be that smart kids gravitate to challenging activities and this keeps them receptive to learning. Or it could be that genes that lead to high IQ also trigger an extended learning period.

Hewitt points out that an extended learning period does not necessarily mean a further increase in IQ. But a very smart teenager with an extended “sensitive period” of learning might be able to pick up a new language or a musical instrument. Such learning can have long-term benefits, Hewitt explains, even if the teenager has the same IQ before and after she learns the language or the instrument.

“Even if in the end the IQ ends up being determined to a large extent by the genes, if there’s been a period where the environment makes a difference, that could have lifelong consequences,” Hewitt said.

study, published in Psychological Science, suggests that for many children it may be a mistake to stop learning new things. Even if you’re a teenager, it might not be too late to start learning Chinese, chess or the cello.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Educating Traumatized Children: ATN Free Online Summit 9/30 - 10/10/14

From the Attachment and Trauma Network

September 29, 2014

Please register for this FREE online summit, taking place from September 30th through October 10th, that will bring together the leading authorities and latest information on creating Trauma-Sensitive Schools.

Register HERE.

As a parent, teacher, school administrator or child welfare professional, you know that a child’s early trauma can have significant impact on his/her ability to learn in a typical classroom. And the behaviors and struggles of traumatized children are often overwhelming. What can we do?

 ATN is presenting 22 audio interviews during our 10-day summit that will explore these topics and give examples of some very exciting programs and strategies being implemented across the United States. Listen in for FREE or buy the entire summit as audio recordings (mp3) and/or as transcripts.

Summit Speakers
  • Jen Alexander, M.A., nationally certified school counselor
  • Robert Anda, M.D., co-founder of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study
  • Patsy Anthony, teacher and EFT practitioner
  • Robert Burroughs,Ph.D, Academic Director for CALO
  • Chris Bye, M.S., co-founder of MeMoves
  • Susan Craig, Ph.D., teacher, consultant and author of “Reaching and Teaching Children who Hurt”
  • Lark Eshleman, Ph.D., trauma therapist, former school principal, counselor and librarian
  • Heather Forbes, LCSW, Beyond Consequences Institute, and author of “Help for Billy”
  • Jenny Kendall, Head of Special Programs for
  • Wendy Klimbal, M.S.,special education advocate, teacher and adoptive mom
  • Megan Marcus,M.A., M.Ed., founder and CEO of FuelEd Schools
  • Ann McMahon, Ph.D., engineer and educator
  • Jody McVittie, M.D., founder of
  • Christine Moers, therapeutic parent and parenting coach
  • Brice Palmer, special education advocate
  • Susan Reedy, TRM/CRM trainer, Trauma Resource Institute
  • Joel Ristuccia, co-author “Helping Traumatized Children Learn” –
  • Melissa Sadin, M.S., special education consultant, school administrator and adoptive mom
  • Roberta Scherf, co-founder of MeMoves
  • Avis Smith, LCSW, Director of Trauma Smart program at Crittenton Children’s Center
  • Lawrence Smith, LCSW-C, founder of
  • Jane Ellen Stevens, founder/editor of and
  • Barb Trader, M.S., Executive Director of TASH
Topics include:
  • Trauma Sensitive Schools
  • The Impact of Trauma on the Brain’s Ability to Learn
  • How to Recognize Children with Attachment Disorders in Your Classroom
  • Teaching Self-Regulation
  • The School Counselor’s Role
  • Trauma Smart Preschools
  • Using Engineering Education to Teach Empathy
  • Is it ADHD or Trauma?
  • Virtual Schooling as an Attachment-Focused Option
  • Alternative Approaches to Teaching Those with Attachment Trauma
  • Reducing Restraints & Seclusion by Using Trauma-Informed Practices
  • Special Education Basics

VERY IMPORTANT: Please watch for and respond to the confirmation email you will receive after registering! If you do not respond to the confirmation email, you will not be registered. International (Outside the US) Participants: If selecting “not applicable” for State does not work during registration, select “Alabama” (the first state on the list), then select your Country and your registration should go through.

Buy recordings and transcripts HERE.

'Toxic Stress' Can Harm Your Child

From CNN Opinion

By Nadine Burke Harris
September 26, 2014

Story Highlights
  • Some kids have "toxic stress" and not attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder
  • Toxic stress can disrupt a child's brain development and affect organ systems. She says parent or caregiver is best shield against effects of toxic stress
  • The Too Small to Fail initiative can help parents increase children's well-being

Nadine Burke Harris, M.D.
Editor's note: Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician, is founder and CEO of Center for Youth Wellness. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

Chances are, you know someone whose child has been diagnosed with attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder. Perhaps you've received that news about yourself or your own child. In many cases, it's a legitimate issue and can require medication, therapy or both. But in my experience, ADHD is sometimes a diagnosis that can be mistakenly given based on a pattern of behavior, without appropriate understanding of the underlying biology.

For many children, particularly those in low-income communities, their behavior issues are not really about underactivity of the brain's attentive function, the hallmark of ADHD. Rather, behavior is just one outward sign of a more significant health threat that doctors are just beginning to understand: toxic stress.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the term "toxic stress" describes the disruption in brain architecture and other developing organ systems that occur when a child is exposed to strong, frequent or prolonged adversity. Unlike ADHD, toxic stress involves many systems of the body and is characterized by a dramatic increase in stress-related disease and cognitive impairment.

I observe its effects every day as a pediatrician working in one of San Francisco's poorest neighborhoods. We want to prevent, screen and heal those who come under toxic stress.

It Can Begin in Infancy

When we think of the emotional life of a baby, we often reduce the child's feelings to the way he behaves around a few daily activities. We hear an infant cry when he needs to eat or sleep or when he feels uncomfortable. Most caretakers tune in and attend to those needs.

But an infant's well-being is not just about food, rest and diapers. There's a lot more going on inside a baby's brain and body that we can nurture. Early childhood is a time of dramatic development of the brain and other organ systems. Children's brains rapidly adapt to the environment around them, for better or worse.

During the critical developmental years, between birth and age 4, some children experience high anxiety or fear because their home or neighborhood environments are unsafe. They're subject or witness to physical or emotional abuse, community violence or even extreme poverty. This trauma can have a tremendous impact on a child's brain development, as well as the development of their immune system, their hormone systems and even the way their DNA is read and transcribed.

Toxic Stress is Not Typical Stress

Although we all experience some stress growing up -- and some stress actually helps a child learn to navigate our complex world -- repeated "adverse childhood experiences" can activate the body's stress response system. That's called "toxic" stress, and it can affect the way the brain and body develop.

Adverse childhood experiences activate the same kind of "fight-or-flight" response you'd experience if, say, you were walking in the forest and you came face-to-face with a bear. Immediately, the body releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that trigger your heart to pound and raise your blood pressure so that you can either fight the bear or run away.

Chronic stress leads to frequent triggering of this chemical response, and that can be harmful to a child's development long-term. The groundbreaking study in this area, published in 1998, found that a person with four or more adverse childhood experiences had 2.6 times the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease compared with someone with no such experiences.

Adverse childhood experiences also heighten the chance of obesity, stroke, cancer, asthma and diabetes, and multiply the risk of hepatitis, depression and heart disease. Other researchers have found that individuals exposed to high doses of adversity in childhood have increased markers of inflammation in their blood in adulthood and long-term changes in levels of stress hormones like cortisol.

A Caregiver is A Child's Best Buffer

Even in an atmosphere where stress is frequent and not controllable, a young child's parent or caregiver is the best shield against the effects of toxic stress. When a caregiver is able help the child makes sense of the world, manage difficult feelings and develop healthy coping skills, toxic stress can be prevented.

The quality of a caregiver's interaction with a child is a key building block for healthy emotional, social and physical development. Some of the best ways to support a child's health and development involve simple things like talking, laughing, taking time to play with a child one-on-one and just slowing down to spend time together.

This is why I am so proud to be a part of Too Small to Fail, a joint initiative between Next Generation and the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. This initiative is focused on helping parents and caregivers understand that everyday interactions with children -- even if seemingly small, like enjoying a good book or a laugh with a child -- can protect their health and well-being.

Poverty and adversity don't have to be a prescription for lifelong poor health. With strong bonds established in the early years, parents can positively impact their children's lives and help them build a strong foundation for success.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Goldilocks' Principle: Meeting the Needs of Special Education Students

From the Education Week Blog
"Finding Common Ground"

By Peter DeWitt
September 24, 2014

I worry that students who are labeled as special education get our lower expectations because we don't think they can do more than they are doing, when we should really be helping them do more than they believe they can do.

The Goldilocks Principle requires us to find the balance between what is too soft, too hard and just right. It's a delicate balance, and in this day and age of increased accountability, it's more important now than ever. After all, the Common Core State Standards set more rigorous standards for learning, but how do we get students who were not meeting the old standards to meet the new ones that are more rigorous?

How do we get students the assistance they need to be assessment-capable (Hattie) learners without the need to slap a label on them? What about parents and teachers who are concerned a student will only get what they need if they have a label in the first place? How do we deal with testing, where some states require students to take a test at their grade level, when they are classified because they are not on grade level in the first place?

Special education has come a long way, but still has a long way to go.

A long time ago I was asked by my principal to teach inclusion in the city school where I had been a teacher for a year or two. At that time, special education students were being taught in hallways or the basement floor of the building. Teachers who said they wanted to teach inclusion were also the ones who happened to never want to instruct those students with labels, they just wanted an extra teacher in the room with them.

Special education teachers were like very expensive finger pointers. They walked around the classroom pointing at papers to get students to stay on task, while the classroom teacher stood up front going through the motions...I mean going through the lesson.

When the classroom teacher really wanted to mix it up and do something different, they would break into center-based learning, which meant the classroom teacher stayed in the room with the children without labels, and the special education teacher took their small group of five special education students out into the hallway to teach.

It never seemed to occur to some teachers that the young special education students, some of whom were very distracted, would not be able to focus in the hallway as classes of students were walking by...students in line staring at the group of students in the hallway.

It never occurred to the classroom teacher that the conversation in the hallway between two adults was much more interesting than any lesson the special education teacher may be teaching.

These were all the things I noticed while I was thinking of ways to teach inclusion the next year. And then in walked Anna. She was one of the best special education teachers I co-taught with in my teaching experience.

Level the Playing Field

I was a fairly naïve new teacher from upstate. Anna was from the Bronx. I once told her how much I enjoyed teaching in the inner city, and she laughed. We were in a city school, which was part of a large suburban school district. It was not the inner city to Anna. Anna grew up and taught in the Bronx before moving upstate...which was downstate for me.

We co-taught. And when I say co-taught...I mean we planned together, taught together and ate lunch together with our friend Jo, who was a speech pathologist. I was immersed in special education, which was great, because my pre-service program didn't offer any classes unless we chose it as a minor.

When Anna and I did center-based learning it was in the classroom, and not the hallway. I taught special education students, and she taught those students who were not labeled, and then we switched. Most times, we co-taught all of the students together. We would both pull students back to provide what they needed...whether they were labeled or not.

Sure, I always wanted to teach all of the students who came into my classroom. As a former struggling learner, I knew what it was like to not "get it." But Anna was different. She had a knowledge base that I lacked and I wanted to learn from her.

Although I left the school after a few years to move upstate to another city school, I wanted to teach inclusion because of Ann and the students who came before. All students, regardless of label, deserve the very best. I sometimes worry that they aren't getting our best.

I worry that students who are labeled as special education get our lower expectations because we don't think they can do more than they are doing, when we should really be helping them do more than they believe they can do.

I worry that co-teaching still means very expensive finger pointers who walk silently around the room pointing at ditto after ditto.

In this day of accountability and testing, I worry this practice will only get worse. Special education teachers, who are some of the best professionals who look at data and can accommodate to the needs of their students, have the pressure to get special education students ready to take tests that are at a far higher level of understanding than the students can complete.

How do we find a balance between having higher expectations without making those expectations so high that we continue to make a marginalized population of students feel even more marginalized? How do we stop forcing students into the wrong box, so they can feel chosen at least once in their life?

"Everyone should have at least one time in their life when they feel chosen, wanted, held up for some kind of special treatment. The times are rare, life is short, others have only a given amount of real need and generosity. It is good to be philosophical when we are not chosen, but it is a vital, precious, almost scintillating thing to be young, to be excited, to be wanted specifically for some task, and to feel a possible dream is on the edge of fulfillment.

It is vital for there to be an experience of morning in our lives and for this experience to be called on in the memory of other, more difficult mornings to come. There is no mercy in this world if at least once in our lives we do not feel the privilege of being wanted where we also want to be wanted (Whyte, 2001, p.195)."


Whyte, David (2001) Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, Riverhead Books, New York, NY.


Note: According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, around 13% of students were classified as special education in 2011. In some schools that percentage is higher, and in other schools it is lower. For an article referring to classification and race, click here.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Study Points To More Reliable Autism Test

From Disability Scoop

By Michelle Diament
September 23, 2014

A baby wears an electroencephalogram cap to measure
electrical activity in his brain. Researchers say that EEG
recordings may one day offer an objective way to
diagnose autism. (Ben Schnieder/Seattle Times/MCT)

Assessing how quickly the brain responds to sights and sounds could offer a more precise and earlier method to diagnose autism, new research suggests.

In a study of 43 kids with autism ages 6 to 17, researchers found a correlation between the severity of a child’s symptoms and how quickly they process different stimuli.

For the research, the children were asked to press a button as soon as they heard a tone, saw a visual image or were presented with both the tone and image. Meanwhile, the kids’ brain activity was measured using an electroencephalogram, or EEG.

Children who took the longest to respond when presented with an auditory prompt had the most pronounced autism symptoms, according to findings
published online this week in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Autism severity was also associated with the kids’ lag times when they were prompted by both visual and sound cues, though there was no correlation between autism and the children’s response times to an image alone, researchers said.

“This is a first step toward developing a biomarker of autism severity — an objective way to assess someone’s place on the ASD spectrum,” said Sophie Molholm of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University who led the study.

What’s more, Molholm said that EEGs may prove useful after a child is diagnosed with autism by offering a measure to determine whether or not therapies are effective.

Personalized Screen to ID Suicidal Teens in 14 ERs

The National Institute of Mental Health

September 23, 2014

Aimed to Help Front-line Clinicians Save Lives

Emergency Department Screen for Teens at Risk for Suicide (ED-STARS), a recently-launched study in a network of hospital emergency departments (EDs) across the country, will develop and test a personalized, computer-based suicide risk screening tool for teenagers.

“We plan to refine algorithms capable of predicting which youth are most likely to attempt suicide. We will use these to develop a brief and personalized screening tool in which each question presented to a teen is based on the individual’s previous responses,” explained
Cheryl King, Ph.D.  of the University of Michigan, principal investigator on the NIMH-funded project, along with David Brent, M.D.  of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Jacqueline Grupp-Phelan, M.D., MPH of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

“After it’s validated, this screen will be made available to emergency departments nationwide as an ED- and patient-friendly tool for screening, risk stratification and triage.”

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens aged 12-17, accounting for
about 1,000 deaths in 2011 . A 2013 survey indicated that as many as 2.7 percent of high school students nationwide made a suicide attempt resulting in injury or overdose requiring medical attention in the past year.

The same survey also found that 8 percent of students reported having made at least one suicide attempt in the past year, and 13.6 percent reported having a plan for how they would kill themselves.

NIMH has focused on hospital emergency departments as a prime setting for suicide prevention efforts in recent years. In 2009 there were approximately 9.8 million ED visits for youth ages 10-17, including about 700,000 involving a psychiatric concern, and about 128,000 for
intentional self-harm . After funding the ED-SAFE study for suicide prevention in adults in 2009, NIMH, together with NIDA and NIAAA, began laying the groundwork for a similar project targeting youth.

A 2013 NIMH funding opportunity announcement, Pediatric Suicide Prevention in ED Settings , sought to improve evidence-based ED practices for detecting and referring at-risk youth. The ED-STARS effort was funded in response to this request.

ED-STARS involves a collaboration between researchers and the
Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network (PECARN), and the Whiteriver PHS Indian Hospital . The 14 participating emergency departments serve geographically and socially diverse populations, including American Indian youth, who are at particularly high risk for suicide.

In the project’s first study, over 6,000 youth will be screened, and researchers will follow up on a subsample of 12-17 year-olds who score high on suicide risk factors – as well as those who score low. Their experiences over a 6-month period will be used to develop a computerized adaptive screen (CAS) for predicting suicide attempts that adjusts its line of questioning depending on responses to previous questions.

The researchers will then compare the sensitivity, specificity, and predictive value of the CAS with the Ask Suicide-Screening Questions (ASQ), a standardized ED youth suicide prevention screening tool, developed by Lisa Horowitz, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the NIMH Intramural Research Program.

A second study will validate the CAS and associated risk stratification algorithm, determining the measure’s ability to predict suicide attempts in a new sample of over 2,000 youth. The potential benefit of including a behavioral test of suicidal thoughts, the Implicit Association Test (IAT), as part of the screening process will also be evaluated.

“We’re excited about the promise of what ED-STARS can deliver,” said Amy Goldstein Ph.D, NIMH Associate Director of Prevention Research, and Chief of the Child and Adolescent Preventive Intervention Program, which funds the study.

“It will provide ED clinicians nationwide with an easy-to-administer screening instrument that classifies youth as high, moderate or low-risk, enabling efficient triaging of resources and identification of modifiable risk factors for treatment – a tool that can save lives.”

Friday, September 26, 2014

Bill’s View: Ten Supreme Court Special Education Cases You Need to Know

From Massachusetts Advocates for Children - Bill's View

By Bill Crane, Esq.
September 25, 2014


Bill Crane is Of Counsel to Massachusetts Advocates for Children. He works with other MAC attorneys on systemic special education issues, consults to attorneys representing low-income parents and students in special education disputes, and writes occasional postings for the MAC blog. Bill was a Hearing Officer at the Bureau of Special Education Appeals from 1999 to 2014.


This is the first of what I hope to be a (more or less) monthly posting on special education law and practice. In this posting, I begin by reviewing the United States Supreme Court’s first special education decision, which in many ways remains the single most important judicial decision regarding special education. I then briefly cover all of the remaining Supreme Court decisions pertaining to special education.

In my October posting, I plan to provide an overview of all of the relevant First Circuit decisions. In subsequent postings, I will discuss other important court decisions, state law and regulations that may extend beyond the federal floor, as well as practice suggestions.

I welcome reader feedback, particularly any suggestions as to how these postings could be improved, including what other areas of special education law or practice I might address.

Readers may contact Bill directly at

The Rowley Decision

In Board of Education v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176 (1982), the Supreme Court rendered its first opinion regarding the contours of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and, importantly, the “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) mandate within it.

The Court opined that the IDEA requires proposed special education and related services to be “reasonably calculated to enable [the student] to receive educational benefits.” The phrase “reasonably calculated” has generally been understood to mean that the IDEA does not guarantee any particular result—rather, the educational services proposed by a school district must only be reasonably likely to provide sufficient benefit to the student. The key remaining question, of course, is how much benefit is sufficient under the IDEA’s FAPE mandate.

In language that lower courts continue to quote, the Supreme Court explained: “Whatever Congress meant by an ‘appropriate’ education, it is clear that it did not mean a potential-maximizing education.” The Supreme Court added that a student must receive “some benefit”, and several Circuit Courts have adopted this language in a manner that tends to limit the FAPE entitlement. But, the Supreme Court also used the term “meaningful” to describe what education must be provided, and referenced a standard of meaningful access to public education.

Many courts (including the First Circuit in its two most recent IDEA decisions) have adopted a meaningful benefit standard. Importantly, the Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA) hearing officers have also adopted a meaningful benefit standard. (Occasionally, BSEA hearing officers also use a standard of “effective” educational progress—a standard found in federal special law, lower federal court decisions, Massachusetts special education regulations, and the Massachusetts standard IEP form.)

Two other parts of the Rowley decision help one understand the contours of the FAPE standard. First, the Court wrote that FAPE must be “tailored to the unique needs of the handicapped child by means of an individualized educational program (IEP)”, thereby emphasizing the critical principle of individuality. (The requirement of designing special education services to meet a student’s unique needs is also found within the IDEA’s purpose section and its definition of “special education”.)

In many situations where a student’s special education services may appear to be ineffective, an important question to ask is whether the student’s educational program has been sufficiently tailored to meet his or her unique special education needs.

Second, the Supreme Court explained the central importance of considering each student’s educational potential when seeking to determine whether a student is receiving sufficient educational benefit. I quote here extensively from Rowley because of the importance of this point:

"The determination of when handicapped children are receiving sufficient educational benefits to satisfy the requirements of the Act presents a more difficult problem. The Act requires participating States to educate a wide spectrum of handicapped children, from the marginally hearing-impaired to the profoundly retarded and palsied. It is clear that the benefits obtainable by children at one end of the spectrum will differ dramatically from those obtainable by children at the other end, with infinite variations in between. One child may have little difficulty competing successfully in an academic setting with nonhandicapped children while another child may encounter great difficulty in acquiring even the most basic of self-maintenance skills. We do not attempt today to establish any one test for determining the adequacy of educational benefits conferred upon all children covered by the Act."

Lower courts (including the First Circuit) have adopted and clarified this principle to mean that under the IDEA, one cannot determine the sufficiency of a student’s educational progress in a vacuum. Rather, educational benefit can only be understood appropriately within the context of what each particular student would be expected to be able to learn if provided an appropriate educational program.

In assessing whether educational progress has been sufficient, it is therefore essential to understand (often with the help of an expert) the student’s potential to learn.

Judges and hearing officers cite to and are governed by the above-described legal standards, as well as elaborations of these standards found in countless federal court decisions. But, what is apparent from reading many, many IDEA decisions is that a relatively subjective factual analysis is usually determinative in a FAPE dispute. This reflects the reality that each student’s educational needs, in fact, are unique.

As a result, what often becomes critical is the judge’s or hearing officer’s understanding of the educational facts and the opinions of educational experts (including teachers, service providers and evaluators) who know the student’s particular special education needs and how those needs should be met so that the student’s educational program will be appropriate.

Subsequent Supreme Court Decisions

What follows is an overview of the Supreme Court’s subsequent IDEA decisions, listed in reverse chronological order. Although none of these decisions has the breadth of Rowley’s analysis, each of these decisions establishes an important principle regarding the rights and responsibilities of parents and school districts.

And, as with Rowley, a number of these decisions provide an important backdrop to the lower court decisions that have filled in much of the details of special education law.

Winkelman v. Parma City School Dist., 550 U.S. 516 (2007). The Court held that “[p]arents enjoy rights under IDEA; and they are, as a result, entitled to prosecute IDEA claims on their own behalf.” Some may find the Court’s recitation of parental rights to be useful.

Arlington Cent. School Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Murphy, 548 U.S. 291 (2006). The Court held that non-attorney expert’s fees for services rendered to prevailing parents in IDEA action are not costs recoverable from school districts under the IDEA’s fee-shifting provision.

Schaffer v. Weast, 546 U.S. 49 (2005). The Court held that the party seeking relief bears the burden of proof in an administrative due process proceeding, such as the BSEA.

Buckhannon v. West Virginia Dept. of Health and Human Resources, 532 U.S. 598, 121 S.Ct. 1835 (2001). The Court ruled that in order to obtain attorney fees as a “prevailing party”, the party must secure either a judgment on the merits or a court-ordered consent decree.

Cedar Rapids Community School Dist. v. Garret F. ex rel. Charlene F., 526 U.S. 66 (1999). The Court held that continuous nursing service is a “related service” that the school district is required to provide under the IDEA. The Court also noted that an IDEA dispute “is about whether meaningful access to the public schools will be assured”, thereby repeating the “meaningful access” standard originally articulated in Rowley.

Florence County School Dist. Four v. Carter, 510 U.S. 7 (1993). The Court discussed the standards pursuant to which a parent may obtain reimbursement for a private educational placement. Importantly, the Court determined that reimbursement does not necessarily require that the private school meet the IDEA’s definition of free appropriate public education—for example, the private school does not necessarily have to meet the state education standards.

There are now a number of Circuit Court decisions (including a First Circuit decision that will be discussed in my next posting) that have relied on this decision to describe more specifically the requisites of a private educational placement that can be reimbursed.

Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305 (1988). The Court addressed the IDEA’s stay-put provision, explaining that in enacting stay-put, Congress intended “to strip schools of the unilateral authority they had traditionally employed to exclude disabled students … from school.”

The Court also noted that the IEP is the “centerpiece of the [IDEA's] education delivery system” and explained that “Congress repeatedly emphasized throughout the Act the importance and indeed the necessity of parental participation in both the development of the IEP and any subsequent assessments of its effectiveness.”

School Committee of Town of Burlington, Mass. v. Department of Educ. of Mass., 471 U.S. 359 (1985). The Court established, for the first time, the right of parents to be reimbursed for their expenditures for private special education. This decision (together with the Court’s decision in Florence v. Carter, discussed above) generally stands for the proposition that a school district may be required to reimburse parents for tuition and other expenses related to a private school placement when:
  • (1) the IEP and placement offered by the school district were inadequate or inappropriate (in other words, where the school district failed to offer FAPE)
  • (2) the parents’ private placement was appropriate for their child’s needs; and,
  • (3) the balance of the equities favors reimbursement.

The Court also explained that in an IDEA dispute, a court has broad authority to fashion appropriate relief considering equitable factors, which will effectuate the purposes underlying the Act, and that the IDEA provides “procedural safeguards to insure the full participation of the parents and proper resolution of substantive disagreements.”

Irving Independent School District v. Tatro, 468 U.S. 883 (1984). The Court held that provision of clean intermittent catheterization was a “related service” under the IDEA and not a “medical service,” because the service was necessary for the student to attend school. The services requested did not fall within the medical exclusion because they need not be performed by a physician. The Court noted that “Congress sought primarily to make public education available to handicapped children and to make such access meaningful”.

ADHD Linked to Delayed Development of Brain Interconnections

From the Child Mind Institute

By Harry Kimball
September 16, 2014

In the past few years advances in brain imaging technology have allowed scientists to discover many new things about how psychiatric disorders manifest in the brain. One of those discoveries was that, structurally, the brain of a young person with ADHD was different than a so-called "typically developing control."

Now, we have a new finding that comes from the new science of brain connectomics—the study of how the brain's different regions are functionally connected. Or, more colloquially, how the brain talks to itself to make us, well, work.

University of Michigan researchers, working with open-source data originally collected by CMI's own Michael Milham, M.D., Ph.D. for
the ADHD-200 Consortium, analyzed scans of over 400 children and adolescents, some with ADHD and some without.

They found, in essence, two things. First: the differences in the ADHD brain in terms of connectivity between regions and networks mirrors the differences in terms of structure. And second: ADHD brains, when compared to typically developing brains, seem to have been delayed—to have fallen behind.

How these networks and brain regions match up to ADHD symptoms is truly fascinating. "It is particularly noteworthy that the networks we found to have lagging maturation in ADHD are linked to the very behaviors that are the symptoms of ADHD,"
lead author Chandra Sripada tells ScienceDaily.

It really seems as though scientists are homing in the underlying causes of the disorder. But it's also important to note how they are getting there: through ever larger and larger datasets and through sharing.

"Without the database of fMRI images," Sripada continues, "and the spirit of collaboration that allowed them to be compiled and shared, we would never have reached this point."

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mom's Iron Intake Might Be Associated with Autism Risk (Study)

From Reuters via the
HuffPost Parents Blog

September 23, 2014

Iron intake during pregnancy might be associated with autism risk in the infant, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that moms of kids with autism were less likely to remember taking iron supplements before and during pregnancy than other moms. That alone is not enough to prove a link, however.

“Even though we found an association, it’s just an association and needs to be replicated,” said lead author Dr. Rebecca J. Schmidt.

“If this is replicated, it will reinforce that women should be following current specific recommendations for iron intake before they get pregnant, during pregnancy and during breastfeeding,” said Schmidt, who worked on the study in the department of public health sciences at the School of Medicine at the University of California, Davis.

Folic acid, or vitamin B, deficiency has also been linked to autism risk. Both folic acid and iron are involved in fetal brain development and are usually included in prenatal vitamins, but this is the first time research has focused specifically on iron intake and later autism risk, the authors write.

For the new study, Schmidt and her coauthors interviewed mothers in California with children ages two to five about any multivitamins, prenatal vitamins or supplements the mothers were taking before, during and after pregnancy.

The researchers also asked about fortified cereals and other dietary sources of iron.

They compared moms of 520 children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and mothers of 346 kids with typical development.

Moms in the typical development group were more likely to report taking iron-specific supplements, and they had higher average daily intakes, the researchers reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Prenatal vitamins were the biggest source of iron for mothers in both groups, accounting for about 30 to 32 milligrams. The rest of the iron came mostly from iron supplements, which reportedly were used by about 31 percent of women with typically developing kids and about 25 percent of mothers of kids with autism.

Overall, based on researchers’ estimates of daily iron intakes, moms in the typical development group got 57 milligrams of iron per day, on average, compared to 51 milligrams per day for moms in the autism group.

But the moms in both groups were generally getting above the recommended amount of iron, the researchers pointed out.

Typically an adult woman in her reproductive years should get 18 milligrams of iron daily, according to the Institute of Medicine.

During pregnancy, about half of women become iron deficient, so it’s recommended they boost up to 27 mg per day, and get at least nine mg daily while breastfeeding, Schmidt told Reuters Health by phone.

If the results of this study can be reproduced in other studies, it might mean that the current recommendations for pregnant or breastfeeding women are too low, the authors write.

According to the Institute of Medicine tables, the tolerable upper intake level for adult men and women is 45 milligrams per day, but other studies have found that pregnant women in the U.S. generally get about 48 milligrams per day from supplements.

Too much iron from supplements can be toxic, Schmidt warned, but for iron in the diet from fortified cereals, beans, red meat and dark chocolate, there is no toxicity level.

“I think most women know they’re supposed to take a prenatal vitamin during and before pregnancy but not all women know why they’re taking it,” she said.

Some prenatal vitamins include iron, but others, like the popular gummy vitamins, do not. Iron can cause nausea, so some prenatal vitamins leave it out for the woman to take separately at night before bed, she said.

“Most women in America just don’t get quite enough iron from the diet,” Schmidt said.

Since the new study only compared moms from two groups and asked them all to remember what they had been doing two to five years earlier, there is room for another explanation, she said. Lower levels of iron may not have caused autism for the kids. But iron and later autism were related somehow.

The association was especially important for women who were over age 35 and who had metabolic conditions like diabetes and obesity. That could be because as women age they start to metabolize iron differently, Schmidt said.

“The data here are very strong and internally consistent,” said Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, who was not part of the new study.

Landrigan directs the Children's Environmental Health Center at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

Women who are pregnant should be sure to take iron in addition to folic acid, he told Reuters Health by phone.

Iron deficiency is very common in the population, and the autism rate has been rising fast in recent years, and the two might be connected, he said. “I’m sure it’s not the whole story, because iron deficiency has been around a long time.”

The study adds to the growing body of evidence that non-genetic risk factors can contribute to autism risk and showed that combinations of factors, like maternal age and metabolic conditions, don’t just add together, but seem to have a significantly bigger impact on risk, said Cindy Lawler, chief of the Genes, Environment and Health Branch at the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

“The best advice for mothers right now is to get individual guidance on nutrition and supplement use from their physicians,” she told Reuters Health by email.

Source American Journal of Epidemiology, online September 22, 2014

Researchers Question Autism Prevalence Rates From CDC

From Education Week's Blog
On Special Education

By Christina Samuels
July 9, 2014

Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that autism spectrum disorder was now found in 1 in 68 children, based on monitoring that the agency conducts in ten states.

The numbers marked an upward spike in autism prevalence: in 2008, the estimate was that approximately 1 in 88 children in the monitored states had been diagnosed with an ASD.

In 2006, the ratio was 1 in 110, and in estimates for 2002 and 2000, it was 1 in 150.

But are these numbers accurate?

In the July issue of the journal Autism, the editors of the publication argue that the CDC numbers can't provide a meaningful estimate because they are based on a review of records for a child, not an independent assessment.

The records themselves could be over- or understating the existence of a disorder because of local policies, resources and awareness, wrote David Mandell, a health services researcher and psychiatric epidemiologist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and Luc Lecavalier, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University in Columbus. They wrote:

"In a "true" prevalence study, the information a child has in their clinical or educational record is irrelevant. Researchers identify some population or population-based sample and clinically assess individuals in person to determine the presence of ASD. The CDC did not rely on this in-person strategy, presumably because of the high costs. The result, however, is that the data they have collected may be uninterpretable as it relates to prevalence."

Simply put, without direct assessments of children, we will not know the extent to which the CDC-determined "cases" include false positives, or the extent to which children who it was determined do not have autism are really false negatives.

Social impairments and repetitive behaviors are present in many other childhood psychiatric disorders and developmental disabilities, The flaws in this methodology certainly could explain the great variation in prevalence, clinical presentation, and racial disparities by site.

Above: The CDC explains its information-gathering methods.

In response, the CDC emailed Education Week a statement saying "there are different methods to estimate the number of children with autism, each with its strengths and limitations," and that it stands behind the numbers gathered from its monitoring network as providing the most complete picture of autism in communities across the country.

The agency also referred to a 2011 study that was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, that compared diagnosing autism by reviewing records to making the diagnosis after a clinical examination and found a close correlation in results, though that study also noted that relying solely on a records review likely yields a conservative estimate of how many children actually have the disorder.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Brief Intervention May Prevent Increased Risk of Depression in Teens

From ScienceDaily

September 22, 2014

Summary: A low-cost, one-time intervention that educates teens about the changeable nature of personality traits may prevent an increase in depressive symptoms often seen during the transition to high school, according to new research.

A low-cost, one-time intervention that educates teens about the changeable nature of personality traits may prevent an increase in depressive symptoms often seen during the transition to high school, according to new research published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

These findings are important, says psychological scientist and lead researcher David Scott Yeager of the University of Texas at Austin, because so few interventions have successfully prevented the onset of depressive symptoms among high schoolers. But Yeager cautions that the intervention is not a "magic bullet" for depression and requires further testing.

"We were amazed that a brief exposure to the message that people can change, during a key transition -- the first few weeks of high school -- could prevent increases in symptoms of depression," says Yeager. "It doesn't come close to solving the whole problem. Yet finding anything promising has the potential to be important because prevention is far better than treatment -- not only for financial reasons but also because it avoids human suffering."

Adolescence is a challenging transitional period marked by puberty and also changes in friendship networks and status hierarchy. Research suggests that many lifelong cases of major depression emerge during this developmental period.

Yeager and graduate student co-author Adriana Sum Miu of Emory University wondered whether debunking the belief that social adversities are fixed and unchangeable might ward off feelings of hopelessness and despair that can bloom into depression in teens.

"When teens are excluded or bullied it can be reasonable to wonder if they are 'losers' or 'not likable,'" says Yeager. "We asked: Could teaching teens that people can change reduce those thoughts? And if so could it even prevent overall symptoms of depression?"

To find out, Yeager and Miu conducted a longitudinal intervention study with about 600 ninth graders across three different high schools. In September, at the beginning of the school year, students were randomly assigned to participate in the treatment intervention or a similar control activity, though they were not aware of the group assignment. Both activities took place during a normal class period and required only paper or a computer. No one at the school knew the messages or reinforced them.

Students assigned to the treatment intervention read a passage describing how individuals' personalities are subject to change. The passage emphasized that being bullied is not the result of a fixed, personal deficiency, nor are bullies essentially "bad" people. An article about brain plasticity and endorsements from older students accompanied the passage. After reading the materials, the students were asked to write their own narrative about how personalities can change, to be shared with future ninth graders.

Students in the control group read a passage that focused on the malleability of trait not related to personality: athletic ability.

A follow-up 9 months later in May showed that rates of clinically significant depressive symptoms rose by roughly 39% among students in the control group, in line with previous research on depression in adolescence.

Students who learned about the malleability of personality, on the other hand, showed no such increase in depressive symptoms, even if they were bullied. The data revealed that the intervention specifically affected depressive symptoms of negative mood, feelings of ineffectiveness, and low self-esteem.

These findings are especially promising given the relatively small investment of time and effort required to carry out the intervention -- but Yeager cautions that these results raise many new questions:

"The findings replicate in three independent samples, but we know almost nothing about the boundary conditions of these effects or whether they will continue to show up in future studies," says Yeager. "For example, will this intervention work equally well for all students? What symptoms are most affected or least affected? Are there any negative side-effects?

We think timing really matters -- will the intervention work even just a few months later in freshman year? Could you do it one-on-one in clinical practice? We don't have good answers to these questions yet."

Journal Reference

A. S. Miu, D. S. Yeager. Preventing Symptoms of Depression by Teaching Adolescents That People Can Change: Effects of a Brief Incremental Theory of Personality Intervention at 9-Month Follow-Up. Clinical Psychological Science, 2014; DOI: 10.1177/2167702614548317

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The History of Dyslexia

From PsychCentral

By Chato B. Stewart
August 5, 2014

The following is the history of something I’ve dealt with all my life. The fact that I can write about it in a semi-coherent manner is proof that it does not have to be the end of an academic career. I was once told: I would never be able to do the very thing I am doing today… Writing, blogging, creating.

Granted, spell check gets a lot of work. But it can be done. The Mental Health Humor Cartoon above I drew is still one of my favorites and it just so happens to be about what else…dyslexia.

Dyslexia defined by Google search is a: “Developmental reading disorder is a reading disability that occurs when the brain does not properly recognize and process certain symbols.” Wow, that is so clinical and precise. Dyslexia is much more than a learning disability. Yet before the 1900′s, this childhood development was the subject of much conjecture and how children learned was still pretty much theorized. A plethora of terms was used to describe the problem such as “word blindness” or “strephosymbolia.”

It was 1878 when German neurologist, Adolph Kussmaul, coined the phrase “word blindness” describing what we know as dyslexia today.

"He had a special interest in adults with reading problems who also had neurological impairment. He noticed that several of his patients could not read properly and regularly used words in the wrong order. He introduced the term ‘word blindness’ to describe their difficulties. The phrase, word blindness, then began to be used regularly in the medical journals to describe adults and children who had difficulty learning to read. This phrase also conveyed the fact that these patients were neurologically impaired." ~ Understanding Dyslexia: A Guide for Teachers and Parents

In 1887, a German opthalmologist, Rudolf Berlin, was the first to use the word ‘dyslexia’ but it wasn’t widely used or accepted to replace the “word blindness” as of yet. It’s like Manic Depressive Disorder perfectly describes the condition… Whereas Bipolar Disorder took a while to catch on. Seems the same was true for “word blindness” that perfectly describes dyslexia, where we skipped words, suffixes and endings. “Dyslexia appeared in 1891 with a report in The Lancet medical journal by Dr Dejerne.” ~ The History of Dyslexia

Ah, ha just when you think Dyslexia would go mainstream:

“Dr James Hinshelwood, a Scottish eye surgeon, published an account of a patient who had reading difficulties and also a congenital defect in the brain related to eyesight. From this evidence, he concluded that the cause of reading difficulties was a malfunction of eyesight as a result of a brain defect. Dr Hinshelwood’s work reinforced the use of the term word blindness and this phrase persisted throughout the early twentieth century.” ~The History of Dyslexia

The biggest breakthrough came in 1925 by Dr. Samuel Torrey Orton* (October 15, 1879 – November 17, 1948) who pioneered the study of learning disabilities.

"Dr Orton , an American neurologist of some significance. He was probably the first to recognize that children with reading difficulties often reversed letters. This phenomenon he called strephosymbolia. He also introduced the term developmental alexia to describe these children with reading difficulties.

It was not until the mid-1930s that the term dyslexia began to more commonly appear in the literature. The word dyslexia is of Greek origin and combines ‘dys’, meaning an absence, and ‘lexia’, meaning language. So, literally, the word dyslexia means an absence of language."
 ~The History of Dyslexia

In order to help those of us with challenges, unity/compassion is needed:

“The definition and explanation of what children and teachers experience as ‘learning difficulties’ become a site for fruitless debates between theorists and practitioners who adopt incompatible terminology to reflect different perspectives and then cannot engage in a meaningful dialogue. This happened when sociologists of education and educational psychologists studied SEN (Special Educational Needs) assessment with different assumptions and when geneticists, neurologists, cognitive psychologists and teachers each tried to understand dyslexia by looking at a different aspect of the phenomenon. For many years the field of emotional and behavioural difficulties was the site of confused debates about the competing insights of behavioural, cognitive, psychodynamic and systemic theories.” ~ Special Education Needs Inclusion and Diversity, pg. 27

In many ways for me, dyslexia forced me to think outside the box of normal rationality as a way of living and understanding the written world.

I could comprehend anything I was told, shown or viewed… But if I read something, sometimes non-comprehension would require multiple, quadruple readings and reviewing the same text over and over again. Problem would be, I would make up words that weren’t there or lose endings and suffixes. As you can imagine, I can really change the syntax of any sentence.

Can you imagine the anxiety and fear children dealing with dyslexia go through on a day-to-day basis? I can really relate to the video below. When I was in school, I became the class clown to avoid being called on to read or take part in any academic activities that could give away my dyslexia.